Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from ReformJudaism.org, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.
Once, there was a family who had quite a bit of money. They were always warm and well fed, and often bought toys for their children and gifts for each other. But, when the rabbi would come by and ask if they could give to support those in the community who were not always warm and could not always afford food, they would say no. Why not, and what would it take for them to start giving? Rabbi Leora Kaye, Director of Program at the Union for Reform Judaism, retells the story. You can read a written version of this story, titled “How It Feels to Be Poor,” in The Essential Jewish Stories, collected, annotated, and retold by Seymour Rossel.
Three ways to listen:
Welcome back, everyone, to Stories We Tell, a podcast from ReformJudaism.org. Judaism has always had a really rich tradition of passing stories down from one generation to the next, and we do that here every Thursday. This week, it's a story by me. I'm Rabbi Leora Kaye, the director of program for the Union for Reform Judaism. And I hope that you take something away from this week's story, The Miser's slippers.
Once there was a family who had quite a bit of money. They always had the food they needed, the clothes that would keep them warm. They had the chance to buy toys for their children and gifts for one another. And the rabbi of this town would come to the parents of the family every once in a while, asking if they would perhaps give a bit of tzedakah. Could they give a little bit of money to help the people in their town who didn't have what they had? Could they maybe share their riches to be sure that others might have food or clothing, perhaps even the chance to buy gifts for their children?
But each time the rabbi went to their house she was invited, in was warmly welcomed. The couple would offer tea, a biscuit, a comfortable chair in which to sit. But at the end of the conversation they would look at each other. A little bit uncomfortable, they would speak that sort of nonverbal communication that people can sometimes do with each other. And then one or the other would kindly say that, no, right now they didn't have any extra to share.
“Nothing?” The rabbi would ask.
“Nothing,” they would say. And anyway, was it really as bad as the rabbi was making it sound? “These people, maybe they were just complaining for the sake of complaining.”
The rabbi would leave, a bit disappointed each time, both that they had not given and equally in what they had said.
But one day the rabbi came to their house and called for the man and his wife and they came to the door. It was a very cold evening and the snow was blowing around the rabbi's hat when they opened the door.
“We weren't expecting you,” they said. “Please Rabbi, do come in.”
“No this will just take a moment. No need to come inside.” She went on to ask them about their lives, their work, their children, even inquired after their parents. But as they stood there with the door open, they were starting to get cold. They weren't dressed to stand in the cold, but the rabbi was. She had a coat and a warm hat. Her hands were warm in fur lined gloves. But again, the man and his wife—well, it was late. They were wearing slippers, their nightclothes!
And as they stood there it was getting colder and colder. The husband, all of a sudden just when he was about to complain about the cold and invite the rabbi in again, he realized what was going on. And again, he and his wife shared one of those moments between them, and he let her know too what it was that was happening. He looked at the rabbi. They both did.
And they started stumbling over their words—how sorry they were, how they now understood from just a few moments what it meant to feel this cold, to have it take them over. How sorry they were that they had never shared of their riches before. Even how sorry they were that it took them this moment, this moment of feeling, to finally understand how hard it must be for others. And at that very moment they ran into their house. They brought the Rabbi a bag of coins. They promised to give without being asked to help others.
They promised to teach their children to help as well, not only with money but with time and with their souls, their nefesh. And then, they did.
Now that you've heard the story of The Miser’s Slippers, we’re wondering when there has been a time in your life when you’ve realized something only by experiencing it. Is it the kind of thing you wish you had known sooner? The kind of thing you wish you had changed? If you feel like sharing that with us on social media, we'd love to see that happen. You can find us at Facebook.com/ReformJudaism and on Twitter where our handle is @ReformJudaism.
Thanks for listening to Stories We Tell. If you enjoyed this week's story, please rate and review us on iTunes. And you can always find new episodes every Thursday on ReformJudaism.org, where you can also learn about Jewish rituals, culture, holidays, and more. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. Until next week, l’hitraot.